Last week we welcomed Dillon Woods to talk to our Sixth Form about events in South Africa while under white rule.

The Sixth Form were clearly engaged as Dillon spoke about his family’s exile in the apartheid era due to his father Donald’s support for the the ANC’s struggle for recognition and equal rights in apartheid-riven South Africa. In the lecture, Dillon included sections on the creation of apartheid to keep the majority of the population in servitude, and the rules, laws and police/security controls which ensured the imbalance remained. 

Dillon spoke of his father as a deeply a committed Catholic and a believer in the fundamental human rights of people of all colour. Indeed, Donald used his position as the editor of a major national newspaper to great effect, standing up for truth, refusing to be silenced by the authorities at considerable cost to himself and his family. He talked briefly about his father meeting Steve Biko (a leading figure in the emerging ranks of the African National Congress) and the ways in which Biko supported Dillon and other key figures in the anti-apartheid movements (ANC and PAC).

Donald Woods worked with Biko and others in the black consciousness movement to expose the hypocrisy of the apartheid regime. When Biko died while in police custody, Donald arranged for his badly beaten body to be photographed as irrefutable evidence of how Biko had been treated in the days leading up to his death. In the end, Donald’s own life was seriously threatened and he decided to get his family to leave South Africa legitimately while he escaped incognito to Lesotho before being given political asylum in Britain. Now outside of South Africa, Donald was free to make the plight of the South African people known through dialogue with many world leaders and at the United Nations.  

With Nelson Mandela released and, after the peaceful exchange of power, Donald and his family returned to South Africa where he oversaw programmes to help the people of the country. Since his death in 2001, his family have continued his legacy through the Donald Woods Foundation which supports many in the country by means of health, education and agriculture programmes, with Dillon at the helm of the organisation.